At a time when doctors are walking off the job and insurers are either exiting the market or going out of business, a debate on medical malpractice reform at the federal level is clearly long overdue.

A war of words has broken out between those who blame skyrocketing pain and suffering and punitive damage awards for soaring malpractice premiums, and critics of the industry who claim insurers have only themselves to blame due to bad management or poor investment luck.

The truth is likely somewhere in between. The question is what to do about it. The answers should come during the course of Congressional hearings and studies into all the causes of the latest medical malpractice crisis.

The bottom line is that carriers cannot be forced to write the coverage or lower their prices if they are afraid of losing money or being driven into bankruptcy. The imposition of reasonable, national damage award standards that make the exposure more predictable to write should draw carriers back into the market and convince them to charge a more affordable premium.

On the other hand, were talking about people who have been harmed, perhaps irreparably, by the honest mistakes or outright incompetence of their doctors and healthcare facilities. Injured victims must be able to recover reasonable compensation. The awards should also be painful enough to make healthcare providers far more careful about procedures.

To get controversial liability limits through Congress, however, solid proof will have to be provided that awards are indeed so outrageous, resulting in everyones premiums soaring, thus driving up healthcare costs and forcing out good doctors, which serves no ones interests.

This should be quite a battle, especially in the U.S. Senate, where a Majority Leader who is a doctor will lead the fight on behalf of the powerful insurance and healthcare industries against the mighty plaintiffs bar. Nonetheless, it is up to Congress to make sure a fair, just and effective compromise is reached.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, January 27, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.